Posts Tagged ‘creative writing’

Writing a Good Ending

Saturday, December 24th, 2016
Image Credit: http://jasonfischer.com.au/i-finished-my-damn-novel/

Image Credit: http://jasonfischer.com.au/i-finished-my-damn-novel/

So you’re finally at the end. All ready to wrap up these 50,000 words. Feels great, right? You just need to write the ending…which can be tricky. My ghostwriting friend once said, “I actually hate the ending to most books. A lot of them have great last lines, but I’m always underwhelmed.”

When it comes to endings, novels and short stories again can have completely different natures. It’s all right to write your ending first—some of the better stories I’ve written started with the last line. It’s just another matter of getting the characters from the climactic fallout to the last line. It’s also important to know exactly where to start or stop the resolutions. A short story can be an interlude; it can lead right up to a huge battle or a nervous confession, and then end. The momentary crisis has been resolved. Leave the character to confront bigger issues by himself. There will always be people who wish that a story would extend longer than it did—that’s fine. But in a novel, which is all about life changes, there needs to be some indication that life has changed. Resolution is key.

At the same time, “resolution” and “open-ended” aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Open endings are great, and often more realistic. It’s rare to find people who’ve completely closed off parts of their lives. (For example, people always complain that the “real” world is just like high school, and it’s true: people tend to get stuck on high school resentments, and, no matter what, they’ll always keep tabs on a few classmates and laugh when someone ends up getting fat.) Bret Easton Ellis never indicates whether any of the events in American Psycho or Rules of Attraction actually happened; the truth is left ambiguous, the mad characters’ fates hanging uncertainly after the fallout. Of course, that’s the entire point that Ellis is trying to make in his novels, so it works.

Whether you choose to end ambiguously or more resolutely, consider your novel’s themes again. How does your ending cap off the larger questions in your conflicts? Is total, unabated personal freedom worth the societal breakdowns that might happen? Is it right in theory, only just for certain people (and more on the nose, maybe it’s not right for the character you killed off fifty pages earlier)? Does the vapid, soul-sucking glamour of the famous and rich inevitably destroy morality and meaning in life?

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s also the danger of overwriting your ending. To draw on a movie, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King essentially has three endings: Frodo waking up in Rivendell and reuniting with the Fellowship, Aragorn’s coronation and wedding in Gondor, and the elves’ (and Frodo’s and Gimli’s) final departure from Middle Earth. This isn’t to say that these resolutions aren’t necessary. It’s just that the end of Frodo’s mission, Aragorn’s reinstatement as an honorable king of Men, and the conclusion to the elves’ saga in Middle Earth are all treated separately (and all three end on those long fade-to-white shots that clearly should fade into credits). Consolidate your resolutions, but do it thoroughly.

Sidebar: The greatest advice I’ve ever gotten is from Susanna Moore, who once said of my short story ending, “It’s a little too squishy. Too much.” She uses “squishy” in her criticism, which can stand for triteness, overly sentimental passages, sentences that sound nice but don’t indicate anything…and endings are especially vulnerable to squishiness. Novel endings are not huge dramatic banners. Don’t overshadow your climax.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram

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Spice Up Your Plot

Sunday, December 18th, 2016
Image Credit: http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/outdoor/guides/2010/05/guide-to-insurance-for-adventure-travel

Image Credit: http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/outdoor/guides/2010/05/guide-to-insurance-for-adventure-travel

Sometimes life goes according to plan and everything is awesome and your vague (or incredibly detailed) plot outline pulls together perfectly after months or years of staring at a screen muttering, “I know where they need to go, I just need to get them there.”

Sometimes you finally hit the climax of your novel and it feels very anticlimactic. You’ve written the final reveal — a shootout, a betrayal, a Dave Caruso-esque realization — but it doesn’t feel big. The stakes just aren’t high enough.

Well, before you jump that shark, let the novel sit. You’ve been thinking about it for a while, off-and-on since you started writing. Of course, you know what’s going to happen — you’ve probably also considered several other ways it could go, which can lessen the importance of whatever line you picked. Walk away for a little while. Don’t think about it at all for a bit — a day, a week, until finals are over… Then reread it from the start. This is a novel, not a TV show or movie. The place for small, understated stories is much larger in print than it is on a screen. Don’t amp it up just because a main character always gets shot in the third season of any crime show ever and what could top potentially fatal gunshot wounds? (The answer is a lot. Funerals and weddings, for example.)

At the same time, if you do feel that your stakes need a boost, here are a few things you can add:

  • Kill Off a Character – it doesn’t have to be a drawn-out emotionally fraught death. It can even happen off-page. The aftermath is what’s important. Just keep in mind that deaths have a ripple effect, and every remaining character is going to be affected beyond the climax. Pick a character whose personality logically fits dying in whatever manner you choose. Go back and scatter foreshadowing through the rising action.
  • Throw in a Pregnancy – nothing upends a tense wedding scene/tentative reunion like a nice illicit pregnancy. Pregnant news affects people differently, and, of course, there’s an entire undercurrent of whatever character histories are at play, which can add a layer to the events, such as resentment, concern, anger, angst, etc.
  • Make It A Family Betrayal – if your protagonist is on the verge of solving a mystery (spy, murder, theft, drug cartels, etc), and someone tips off the opposition, add a little family drama. It can be completely blindsiding (and devastating) or somewhat expected (bad family relationships are mines for exposing character flaws). This also makes everything more personal, which is great for adding personal desire vs common desire conflicts.
  • Put a Bomb Under the Table – Alfred Hitchcock used this example to champion suspense over surprise. Say two people are having breakfast, and suddenly, a bomb explodes under the table. The reader is surprised for about fifteen seconds. Now say that a saboteur has planted the bomb under the table, and these two people unwittingly sit down to breakfast. The bomb will go off — oh, it will — but now the reader knows it’s there, and the breakfasters do not. There’s an extra investment of when will it go off and will important things get resolved before it goes off. Clue your readers in before you do the same for your characters. Introduce the danger and risks covertly. The issue with this suspense trick is that it only raises stakes for the reader. The unsuspecting people involved don’t know any better (this is why many pre-World War II stories are both amusing and dully formulaic).

Sidebar:

Of course, these apply to broad, more commercial plots. Your particular novel might not be able to incorporate any of these. In that case, there’s always the option to end the world and then take some characters through the ensuing zombie apocalypse. If you’re feeling particularly uninspired, read some more books and take a crisis from one of them. Or several. Good writers borrow, great writers steal, and so on.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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Hitting the Plateau

Saturday, December 10th, 2016
Image Credit: http://araugustyn.com/overcoming-writers-block/

Image Credit: http://araugustyn.com/overcoming-writers-block/

For the first few days or weeks, your novel will seem easy. You’ve settled into a style, you’re inspired by everything around you, you’re writing your favorite chunks of the plot. But then disaster will strike. You know that you have to link two sections of your novel, but the effort of thinking about it, much less sitting down to write it, is too much. Plus, every time you sit down to write, you can’t get into the rhythm of your style, and everything you produce feels trite and insufficient. It will not be fun.

At this point, many people give up on their novels (see myunfinishednovel.com). It just happens. And maybe most tellingly, you won’t think about your characters or your plot for days; you won’t notice small details in your everyday life and remember them for later. You will hit a writer’s block.

This is fine. It happens. If you’ve completely stopped caring about your seedling novel, then maybe it’s time to let it go. People do “outgrow” the stories that they once wanted to tell. But if you still like what you’ve written so far and you’re still (even abstractly) interested in seeing your characters through, then here are a few tips to get through the hard times:

Keep a notebook and pen/pencil with you always. You’ll have experienced by now the difference between composing paragraphs in your head and transposing them onto paper. A brilliant subway train of thought always deteriorates by the time you get to your stop. I know that you spent over half your life on a computer. You’ve been allowed to take notes on a laptop since the start of freshman year. But look: don’t underestimate the power of writing things down.

Make playlists. Follow the tradition of vampire/supernatural novelists (Stephanie Meyer and Kim Harrison do it) and several pop-y TV writers (The OC did this too): make character-specific playlists. It’s like making a playlist for finals. It’s a fun way to procrastinate, and thinking about specific songs also forces you to think about the specific character and how much certain songs fit into their lives. You can also make plot-specific playlists, or if you want to get super specific, cross reference the two and make a really comprehensive series of playlists for every character in every scene. Having a standard set of associations with your novel will also help you get into the same mood every time you prepare to really write.

Write. Write more. Joyce Carol Oates writes for about eight hours a day. Ray Bradbury tries to finish one short story a day. Ask any writer, fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or historical: the only way out is to keep writing. Whether you use any of the material you write during your dry spell is irrelevant. Take fifteen minutes at the beginning of everyday and just free write—don’t worry about the topic or spelling or punctuation. Write your bridge chapter badly, changing it every day until you can move on to the next bit. Write in the present. Write in the future. You know. Stick with it and all that.

Sidebar:

Casting your novel

A friend of mine is ghost-writing a creative non-fiction book about her boss’s grandmother. She finds it easier to work when she can look at the grandmother’s photo; she imagines the woman in the photo living her life and narrates that. I’ve celebrity cast my novel (Josh Jackson and Matthew Goode are in it), and I find that putting the thoughts and actions on a physical body helps me map a logical progression of what happens next. Also, looking up photos and making pretty montages is a great way to procrastinate.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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In the Beginning Was An Idea

Saturday, November 12th, 2016
Image Credit: https://www.edx.org/course/how-write-novel-writing-draft-ubcx-cw1-2x-0

Image Credit: https://www.edx.org/course/how-write-novel-writing-draft-ubcx-cw1-2x-0

So you want to write a novel. Awesome. I’m writing a novel, too. Novels are hard to write in college; being in college tends to get in the way. But if you’re determined to finish your masterpiece, this is a general guide to help you along.

So you have a starting point for your novel, whether it’s a character you wish was real, or a conflict you want to explore on paper, or even just a fun bit of dialogue that’s stuck in your head. Excellent. Your novel will grow and sprawl from that seedling idea into a minimum 50,000 word work (about 175 pages, according to the official definition of a novel by the people at National Novel Writing Month).

Well. Wait. Maybe not 50,000 words. That’s an entire year’s worth of papers. That’s two senior theses. The question I’m asking is, are you sure your idea isn’t better off in a short story?

The difference between a short story and a novel isn’t in word count. A novel isn’t just a super-long short story, nor is it just a series of short stories with connected beginnings and endings. There’s an entire shift in mood and mindset. Short story conflicts are immediate; they’re not necessarily enormous, life-altering moments. They close and resolve their themes within a momentary peek into a character’s life. Novel conflicts are built up. There is just enough necessary room for a long exposition and rising action to create central conflict that logically arises from the characters you’ve established. Novel conflicts send ripples through almost all the aspects of a character’s life. Every line leads logically from not just previous lines, but previous chapters, and each line draws comparison between the individual character and our general expectations of average people. You can’t define a person in the moment of a short story. You can define a person in the chronicle of a novel.

Maybe your idea is large enough to sustain a novel. It could be political, or romantic, or fantastic. But in case you’re having trouble fleshing out your idea, it might help to think of your skeleton novel in terms of its larger themes (yes, I am suggesting that you close-read your own novel before you’ve written it). From there, you can imagine specific scenes or monologues that will further shape your novel. A theme is not a moral. You don’t have to have a moral. You do need to have a purpose.

A note about style: It’s your novel. Write it however you want. Read. Read a lot, and steal any stylistic devices you like.

Sidebar: For example, the seedling to my novel actually started as a short story; in short, it was about a woman who falls in love during World War II and the bittersweet knowledge that when the war ends, her relationship must end. It was a single (somewhat substantial but still rather isolated) period of her life. Now that I’m fleshing it out, I want to raise it from a static personal investment to something broader: a young person’s confrontation with life’s disappointment and mortality on the largest human scale, and, politically, whether her love for her country is worth her own selfish emotions.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during last year’s Welcome Week.

Become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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